The Story of The Whitcomb
Crown Jewel of Midwest Hotels
Our charming downtown community has a storied past and has recently been noted as a landmark in the National Register of Historic Places.
Our story begins with a crude log lodge...
This spot on the bluff in St. Joseph, has always drawn people to look out at the glistening Lake Michigan waters and the river slowly rolling toward it. Pioneer August Newell, enamored with the view, put down stakes where The Whitcomb Senior Living Community building now stands. In 1831, he built a crude log lodge that he mischievously dubbed the Mansion House. It became a popular stop on the Chicago to Detroit stagecoach line.
The oldest known photo of the Hotel Whitcomb.
...that turned into an opulent hostelry...
The Mansion House changed hands in 1866. Its new owner, Charles Krieger, razed the Mansion House and replaced it with the St. Charles Hotel, one of the most opulent and expensive hotels in western Michigan. In 1891, the hotel was renamed the Hotel Whitcomb after an agent who worked for the steamship line.
The St. Charles Hotel flourished for 25 years hosting thousands of vacationing passengers that arrived via steamship.
...where guests found a blend of luxury and healthful living.
In 1905, the Hotel Whitcomb discovered it had more to offer than a great view. Local Native American tribes had long spoken of vile vapors rising from cracks in the soil near the hotel. Geologists confirmed there was an underground sulfur spring nearby. Caught up in the turn-of-the-century mineral bath craze, the Whitcomb piped the spring water into separate men’s and women’s baths so they could glean its health benefits.
The Hotel Whitcomb piped nearby sulfur spring water into hotel baths.
Then the world changed.
From 1905 to 1927, the 1866-built hotel fell into a state of disrepair. Several prominent merchants raised a million dollars in six weeks to build a modern hotel on the site. They tore down the old hotel and commissioned Pond, Pond, Martin and Lloyd to design a quasi-Mediterranean resort. It was grand! There were 225 rooms, dining room seating for 800, a sunken garden for lounging and dancing and a 60-tub bathhouse. It opened May 3, 1928. Celebrities such as Joe DiMaggio, Eleanor Roosevelt and Metropolitan Opera star Marian Anderson graced the guest list. But hard times hit. The Great Depression, World War II and the end of steamship travel sent the Whitcomb Hotel’s glory days into a non-recoverable downward spiral. It closed in 1966.
From the mid-1940s until the Whitcomb Hotel closed in 1966, Polly greeted guests in the lobby. Its famous admonition was, “Shut the door!”
Whitcomb Hotel's Glory Days
A rendering of the hotel from a 1930s postcard.
Our story continues.
In 1969, Michigan Baptist Homes purchased The Whitcomb property and after doing major renovations re-opened the building on March 15, 1973, as a senior retirement residence. Whitcomb Holdings, LLC, purchased the property in August 2006 and has made it one of the most desired senior living communities in Michigan. The view is spectacular. The city is vibrant. The food and accommodations are delightful. And the staff is caring and attentive. The Whitcomb still is the “Crown Jewel of the Midwest.”
Festive holiday decorations adorn the Whitcomb’s first floor central hallway.